The attorney for Mark L. Blake Jr., the man suspected of shooting a Charleston police officer March 30 in West Ashley, argued during a hearing this morning that the officer initially had no reason to follow his client’s rental car.
The officer, Cory Goldstein, noticed the Hyundai around 10:30 p.m. because of its darkly tinted windows and North Carolina license plate, State Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Ryan Kelly testified during the preliminary hearing.
The Charleston Police Department officer’s marked cruiser did a U-turn and happened to fall in behind the Hyundai, Kelly said. Goldstein followed the car through the Citadel Mall parking lot, where it ran stop signs and cut through parking spaces, the agent testified.
The Hyundai did the same in the parking lot of the Best Buy at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Dupont Road, further raising the officer’s suspicions of the car because the business was closed, according to the testimony.
Goldstein activated the blue lights on his cruiser, and the Hyundai stopped outside the Best Buy. But as Goldstein got out of his car, the Hyundai took off, Kelly said.
The officer followed the car with lights flashing and sirens blaring, but when the Hyundai’s headlights were turned off as it went through a red light, Goldstein decided to stop the pursuit for safety reasons, Kelly said.
Goldstein continued in the direction of the Hyundai on southbound Savannah Highway, but his car’s blue lights were off. A short time later at the ramp to eastbound Interstate 526, the Hyundai crashed into a guardrail and became disabled.
Goldstein saw the driver running from the scene and ran after him.
Blake’s attorney, Eduardo Curry, argued that Goldstein had no legal reason to follow his client’s car in the first place. Because of that and that Goldstein had turned off his blue lights by the time Blake crashed his car, Curry asked Magistrate James Gosnell to dismiss a charge of failure to stop for blue lights.
Assistant Solicitor Denton Matthews countered Curry’s argument, saying “the crime was already committed” when the Hyundai fled from the scene of the initial stop outside the Best Buy.
Gosnell agreed with the prosecutor, ruling that there’s enough cause for the charge to proceed toward a trial. He made the same ruling on the second charge Blake faces: attempted murder.
After the minor wreck near I-526, the Hyundai’s driver hopped out and started running toward a hotel just south of the crash scene. Goldstein chased after the man, and at some point behind the hotel, the motorist turned and shot the officer several times, the police said.
Goldstein — struck by bullets in a leg, the chest area of his protective vest, a hand and his arm — managed to stand his ground and fire back. Blake also was hit several times.
Kelly, the SLED agent, said it had not been determined who fired the first shots. Goldstein told the authorities that he pulled his pistol when he saw Blake pull his, but he was unsure about who was the first to pull the trigger.
Kelly said Goldstein fired 15 to 18 times at Blake. Blake fired until his Glock was empty, Kelly added, but agents couldn’t determine how many rounds had been in the gun. The .40-caliber Glock 22, which Kelly said was stolen from Berkeley County, typically holds 15 rounds in its magazine and can take one more in its chamber.
Kelly said investigators decided not to pursue a charge of possessing a stolen pistol against Blake because they couldn’t immediately prove that he knew it was stolen or that he was a likely suspect in the burglary during which it was taken.
Blake had been out on bail after he was arrested last year and again earlier this year on drug-trafficking charges. His criminal history also shows a tendency to run from the police.
Some of his family members attended this morning’s hearing. They shook their heads and whispered as Kelly described how Goldstein followed Blake through the parking lots of the closed businesses in West Ashley.
Gosnell took exception to their reaction.
“This isn’t a time for anyone out there to start judging,” Gosnell said.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.